Wrapping in 2012 Serena has sat on a shelf until now, and maybe it was better that way. Director Susanne Bier’s disjointed anti-romance starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper may be highly anticipated but doesn’t seem to capture it’s audience quite as hoped.
The melodrama is set in America in the 1930s and tells the story of logging baron George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper). When Pemberton’s timber empire begins to crumble he leaves the beauty of the North Caroline Mountains to seek help from big city bankers. While sipping cocktails he spots Serene Shaw (Jennifer Lawrence) riding on the back of a white stallion, the wind in her hair and he instantly falls in love.
After a short and passionate courtship, they marry and George returns home to his trees with his beautiful bride in tow. His colleagues aren’t very welcoming but that doesn’t deter the outdoorsy and very capable Serena to soon take over.
Buchanan (David Dencik), Pemberton’s main partner and best friend, isn’t the only one who feels that Serena is overstepping her boundaries, but he is the most vocal about it and a rift between the friends appears.
Serena suspects that Buchanan has homosexual feelings for Pemberton and when George’s ex-lover returns Rachel (Ana Ularu) with a lovechild on her hip, distrust grows just like Serena’s own baby bump.
Trying to keep Serena happy and battling it out with the local sheriff and conservationist McDowell (Toby Jones) proves hard work and expensive business as Pemberton pays off local authorities to keep his timber mill running. But when a violent murder occurs things begin to unravel and the couple drift apart.
Serena takes a long time to get the plot moving, and even when it does everything feels disjointed and superficial. The characters aren’t given the space to develop and their motives are never truly exposed.
Lawrence succeeds to straddle the line between siren and madwoman, her locks perfectly preened, her looks full of emotion. Cooper is the perfect counterpart to her silky presence in his tweeds and the chemistry they displayed in Silver Linings Playbook is evident in Serena, too.
The costume and set design are wonderful, capturing an era long gone, and one can’t help but admire the beautiful Czech landscape that fills in for the unspoiled North Caroline Mountains of the 1930s. But with all this splendour and brilliant acting Serena can’t disguise the fact that it doesn’t take the time to tell the story. Quick edits and abrupt direction changes make it nearly impossible to connect with the characters leaving the viewer somewhat unemotional about the outcome.
Overall Director Susanne Bier has created an anvantgarde-esque film that shows beautiful images but leaves its audience cold, so maybe Serena should have just stayed on that shelf.